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Traveling With a Baby: What to Pack

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Lean in close. I have a confession to get off my chest.

Nervous butterflies haven’t flooded my stomach at the thought of flying in years. Once upon a time,  I dreaded the takeoff and landing. (Airsickness, anyone? Puking your guts out is an awesome way to start your trip — not.) Those days are long gone thanks to hours of mindful breathing.

Now those nervous butterflies are back. In hordes of swarming wings that clog my throat and drain blood from my limbs.

What’s triggered their return?

The thought of flying with my 3-month old son.

A few weeks ago, he woke up to the fact that, surrounding him, is a teeming world full of strange curiosities. His big eyes soak in Costco, neighborhood walks, and views out the car’s rear window.

He’s the perfect age to introduce to flying: malleable, too naive to be scared, plump and cute enough to be forgiven a multitude of sins. He’s ready to take a bite out of the world.

His mama is hovering on a knife’s edge between fear and excitement. A feeling akin to the one just before the roller coaster drops into a stomach-clenching fall.

Maybe you’re like me: an old hand at traveling solo, or with a partner, but the thought of being That Person With A Baby on the plane terrifies you. Maybe, once upon a time, flying without a checked bag scared you, too (you crazy carry-on packing fool) but look how far you’ve come.

To lend my soul confidence — forewarning of what’s coming eases my unnamed terrors — I’ve been researching hard and heavy. I even interviewed my gyspy-blooded friends with kids to get their hard-won tips.

Here’s how to pack for your first trip with baby (under a year old) — including what MUST go in your diaper bag.
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Planning Your Trip

Timing

Booking flights that coincide with your baby’s nap times is vital.

“Pick your flight time wisely. I like to take off right around nap or sleep time so they snooze,” says Jennifer Lopuch, my sister-in-law and mom to two boys under seven years old.

In other words, baby will be quiet and happy during your flight. Which is (sigh) a mother’s biggest dream.

If you’re flying a red-eye, try to keep baby awake until you get on the plane so baby can conk out after wheels are up. With this flight time, you’re working with the forces of nature. It’ll ease jet lag and help transitions to new time zones if baby is well-rested when you hit the ground.

Adjustment of Formula

If your baby is formula-fed, get the little guy used to eating formula mixed with cold water instead of warm water. This way you can mix formula easily and with the water that’s at hand. Meaning the little guy has less time to wait and start fussing.

Reserve a Bassinet

Did you know that larger aircraft have a baby bassinet at the front of each section?

It’s not an urban legend. Your baby can snooze comfortably in his own bassinet secured to the plane’s wall, instead of cramped on your chest for a 12-hour flight. So, you can catch some valuable sleep time, too.

Check out Seat Guru to find out exactly where the bassinets are on your aircraft. Then call to book your ticket over the phone and request that exact seat, and that treasured bassinet.

Beware: some planes only have one bassinet. If you want to snatch up that rare find, act quickly.

Pre-Flight

If your baby is under two years old, he doesn’t need his own seat. But if your flight isn’t jam-packed full, he doesn’t have to sit on your lap the entire flight either. He is eligible to sit in his car seat in an empty seat.

The only kicker is that you might not know if your flight is full until you get to the airport. So, bring the little one’s car seat with you and ask the desk attendants about your flight’s status. If your flight is full, the airlines will gate-check your car seat for you.

Bring a big trash bag to put your car seat in to protect it from the, um, elements, of getting thrown into the plane’s belly.

During the Flight

Seat Selection

If your airline lets you pick your own seats, like Southwest Airlines, opt for an aisle and window seat in the same row. Unless your flight is 100% full, an unlucky soul won’t intentionally pick that middle seat between two parents and a baby.

“Get an aisle seat so that if baby is fussing during the flight you can walk the aisle with him and bounce him a bit,” says Jennifer.

Or, pick two aisle seats directly across from each other. This option is good for when baby is a little older and gets bored of the same visual viewpoint.

Takeoff & Landing

Keep a pacifier close by, or opt for nursing.

“Our best friend flying, so far, has been nursing,” says Vanessa Finch, mom to an adorable toddler and expecting baby #2. “There was no fuss that nursing couldn’t calm down, and it helped with ears popping and spontaneous flight naps, too.”

Most important about takeoff and landing: Start baby sucking before altitude starts to change. Once his ears start hurting, it’ll be harder to get him started sucking.

As for barf bags tucked into the seat back in front of you? Grab one (or two).

“Extra barf bags — they’re not only good if baby barfs, but also for dirty diapers or burp cloths. Also take full advantage of the family bathrooms before and after the flights!” says Rose Bruce, veteran traveler and mom to a feisty toddler.

Adjust Your Attitude & Choose Your Mindset

Relax. Babies feel it when mom and dad get tense. When you stress out, your little one will feed off your anxiety.

Try to stay calm and accept that traveling with a baby may be rocky. Just accepting that fact will make the trip go more smoothly.

Jacquie Tarrant, my sister-in-law, is an expert on flying with kids. Several times, she has flown the 8+ hours from Anchorage to Montana with her two kids under three years old. Alone.

She says, “Don’t be afraid to accept help when it is offered. If it’s just you and baby, these saving graces can really make a difference.”

Your attitude and mindset go beyond accepting gracious help from strangers. Those strangers also have the potential to be the worst part of your flight.

“Don’t let anyone make you feel badly. We have had great flights where the kids were all smiles and slept. And we have had trips where, no matter how hard we tried, the baby couldn’t be consoled. Everyone was a baby once and God knows that there were times when they cried inconsolably too. When all else fails, breathe.” — Jacquie Tarrant

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Baby Gear to Go

Before you think about packing anything, check out all of the stuff you can rent for baby and see if that’s a possibility in the city you’re traveling to. Renting gear saves time (at the airport and packing), money (additional checked baggage costs, and replacement costs for items that are damaged in transit), and stress. How great would it be to just hop on a plane with your kiddo and go, knowing every single thing you needed would be delivered on the other end?

Stroller: The Great Dilemma

Some moms say to bring a stroller, because it’s easier than lugging your baby around the airport. Other moms say skip the stroller — it’s more of a hassle. And still other moms like Nicole Moore, say, “A stroller that folds quickly is a must!”

Simple answer? Do what feels best for you.

If you decide to go with stroller, most airlines will gate-check it for free.

Beware: they don’t handle your stroller with white gloves. So, if you bring one, be prepared to have it go through the wringer.

Blankets

Pack at least two blankets — like Ziggy Baby’s muslin swaddles — to shield nursing sessions, wrap baby up against cold recirculated air, pin up between two airplane seats for privacy, or tuck baby in for a nap.

Why two? Because inevitably baby will spit up or make one dirty, and you’ll need a back up.

Baby Carrier

A baby carrier like Ergobaby or Onya Baby Outback makes baby much more portable. Either baby carrier works for babies up to 35 or 45 lbs, so you’ll get several good years of use.

“We always just took baby in the front pack and ditched the stroller. It was so much easier to get around that way.” — Rose Bruce

Baby Monitor

Ditch the expensive night-vision baby monitor and re-purpose your outdated Apple products. (Haven’t we all got old smartphones hanging around?)

Use Skype or FaceTime to keep an eye on your sleeping baby. I use this method constantly at home.

Here’s how:

  • Connect to Wifi on both devices
  • Using one device, call the second device on audio-only or video Skype/FaceTime
  • Set up the first device so the camera overlooks sleeping baby
  • Mute the second device’s microphone
  • Adjust first device’s camera so sleeping baby is easily seen on second device’s screen
  • Take second device and get out of the room
  • Congrats, you now have eyes on baby!
  • For audio-only, follow all instructions and connect with an audio-only call

Diaper Bag Packing List

“A nursing cover, change of clothes for baby (and maybe shirt for mom, too), hand sanitizer, and fully stocked diaper bag are the main musts,” says Vanessa.

If you’re strategic about your packing, you can skip checking a bag. Avoid the horrible baggage claim wait that’s enough to make even an adult go stircrazy — not to mention a restless baby. Most airlines allow you to bring one personal item (i.e. a diaper bag) and one carry on size bag (i.e. The Tortuga and use packing cubes to pack you and baby in the same bag).

If you opt for carry on only, swap out your daily diaper bag for a more travel friendly one like a sturdy backpack, day pack, or messenger bag. Make sure the bag is comfortable to carry for long distances and handles heavy weight well. Likely, this diaper bag will be your all-around bag on all your daily adventures.

Depending on the age of your baby, you may be holding baby + bag while running through the airport.

Here are some other musts for your diaper bag:

  • Safety pins: To pin up a blanket and create a privacy shield between you and a seat mate
  • Plastic Ziplock baggies: For dirty clothes, dirty diapers, keep pacifiers clean, wrangle baby socks
  • Two pacifiers: To help little ears on takeoff and landing
  • Snack: For mom
  • One diaper for every hour you’ll be traveling: Buy more diapers at your destination
  • Baby wipes: Good for everything from baby to cleaning hands to surprise messes
  • Two pairs long pants
  • One pair of shorts
  • Two long-sleeved footed onesies: For pajamas
  • Three short-sleeve onesies
  • GoToob of baby laundry detergent: For hand-washing in sinks baby clothes are so small, they’ll dry quickly overnight
  • Pacifier sanitizing container: To microwave and re-sanitize pacifiers
  • Baby sunscreen
  • UV-protected hat
  • White noise machine or smartphone white noise app: Because it’s so hard to control extraneous noises at night. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to hush an entire hotel when baby (finally) falls asleep.

Diaper Bags by Age

What to Pack In Your Diaper Bag: 0-3 Months

  • Two receiving blankets: use for burp cloths, blankets, play or changing mat
  • Baby bottles + nipples (if not nursing)
  • Powder baby formula (if not nursing)
  • Empty reusable water bottle for mom to fill up with water (if nursing — staying hydrated is super important!)

What to Pack In Your Diaper Bag: 3-6 Months

  • Snacks for baby if on solid foods now
  • Two receiving blankets: use for burp cloths, blankets, play or changing mat, or tack over windows to darken room
  • Baby bottles + nipples (if not nursing)
  • Powder baby formula (if not nursing)
  • Empty reusable water bottle for mom to fill up with water (if nursing — staying hydrated is super important!)

What to Pack In Your Diaper Bag: 6-12 Months

  • Sippy cup
  • Snacks for baby
  • Books
  • Small toys that go far in terms of time holding baby’s attention: a friend goes to the dollar store before a trip and buys little trinkets for her twin daughters
  • An old iPod loaded with kid-friendly music and headphones
  • Be creative: the toys that hold kids’ attention best are those that aren’t designed as toys. Think: shipping boxes, empty plastic cups, playing with ice

TL;DR

Flying with a baby is a new type of challenge. Like any new challenge, it eases the nerves to know what’s in store for you. And, it’s important to pack the right things in your diaper bag.

  • Remember that your child might be able to sit in an open seat for free
  • Stack the odds by choosing your seat carefully
  • Consider renting gear at your destination instead of packing everything
  • Your stress level will be mirrored in baby, stay calm

In your diaper bag, make sure you pack:

  • Safety pins: To pin up a blanket and create a privacy shield between you and a seat mate
  • Plastic Ziplock baggies: For dirty clothes, dirty diapers, keep pacifiers clean, wrangle baby socks
  • Two pacifiers: To pop little ears on takeoff and landing
  • One diaper for every hour you’ll be traveling: Buy more diapers at your destination
  • Baby wipes: Good for everything from baby to cleaning hands to surprise messes
  • At least two pairs of: long pants, long-sleeved footed onesies for pajamas, short-sleeve onesies
  • GoToob of baby laundry detergent: For hand-washing in sinks; baby clothes are so small, they’ll dry quickly overnight

And remember to breathe. You’re introducing your baby to an amazing world — that’s what is important.

If you’ve flown with your baby, what are your best travel tips?

Image Credit: Unsplash, Pixabay, Donnie Ray Jones, Flickr

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